Wrote this up for the Henge:
Brighid breath: Using seed-sounds in meditation
The flames of a hearth fire or ritual fire can be mesmerizing, trance-inducing. Yet somehow, simple tratak eludes me.
Tratak is the Indian term for the one-point gaze, in which the meditator fixes her concentration on a single visual object – often a candle flame. The exercise stills the mind, emptying it of thought and allowing it to rest in meditative bliss.
At least that’s the theory. In my own practice, I light the candle and then obsess: What’s that noise? Am I doing it right? Gosh, these are those relighting birthday candles; how do I blow them out? Occasionally, I’ll pause with a stern thought – thinking! – and then try again to forcibly purge my mind. And the gerbil wheel will continue on its squeaky little way in my cerebrum.
Tratak doesn’t work for me, likely because I am more attuned to sound than I am to vision. While doing yoga, the sound and rhythm of my breath combine with the physical asanas, emptying my mind of that pesky gerbil wheel. In other spiritual practice, I can chant and sing myself into ecstasy, or hold a silent mantra throughout the course of my prayer beads.
In yoga, mantra – whether recited out loud or internally – provides an easy pathway for the sound-oriented into the meditative state. Many mantras are specific to Hindu or Buddhist religious philosophy, such as the archetypical “Om mane padme om.” Some mantras consist of a single “seed sound” such as Om or Gam, the sound essence of the elephant God Ganesha.
A polytheist outside the spectrum of Eastern religion can adopt the technology of mantra to deepen her own meditative practice. In my own practice, I pair a simple focus on breath with the name of Brighid, using “breej” as a seed-sound. As I inhale, my mind chants “Brighid,” drawing out the syllable of her name. The process is repeated on the exhalation. For a more relaxing practice, try drawing out “breej” to encompass both the inhalation and exhalation.
When I desire an even deeper communion with my matron, I will couple the Brighid breath with visualization, focusing on the internal image of Brighid or her symbols, such as fire in water or the reed cross. Sometimes, I will visualize laying offerings at her white feet, a kind of inner puja, to use a Hindu term.
The combination of breath and seed-sound certainly can be used for Gods other than Brighid; practitioners seeking to connect with Lugh can align his name with the breath, for example. For deities with longer names, I advise going with the gut. “Danu” can certainly be broken up into “Da” on the inhalation and “nu” on the exhalation, while Manannan can be condensed to the seed-sound “Man,” – conveniently the name of his sacred island. While not the name of a God, “Awen” or “Imbas” makes a fine focus for chant and breath-work; Awen’s sound properties are similar to Om, making it easy to chant in a yoga class!
When it comes to meditation, it’s important to find what works with your nature rather than swim upstream, so to speak. If you’re frustrated with mental chatter and can’t focus solely on visual stimuli, I suggest giving the Brighid breath a try.